One Should Really… (Man sollte mal…)


One should really write down what the people say. Naturalism can’t get near it. It is true that the authors of some plays do do their best to copy real life, but always with the necessary epic contraction, as Fontane called it, when he found it lacking in Raabe; always slightly stylized, tailored to the needs of the book. But that’s not what I mean.

No, we should take shorthand, a hundred and eighty syllables a minute, of what the people go on about. I think the result would be roughly as follows: daily language is a jungle, overgrown by the creepers of fillers, placeholders and expletives. We won’t even mention the terminal, „You know?“ (pronounced, “Y’know?”), or that, „The matches, please!“ is just impossible, the very summit of rudeness. Obviously, one should say, „Would you be so good as to pass me the matches, please? If it’s not too much trouble. Thank you.” „No trouble!“ That’s how it goes. But when people want to tell each other something it gets pretty tasty. The language trips over sticks and stones, and cuts and bruises itself on grammatical links. Oh, tenses! Oh, cases and moods!

The first rule is: the person you are talking to is deaf or stupid, so you need to say everything six times. “So then he said he couldn’t give me the invoice! He couldn’t give me the invoice! That’s what he said. Now, listen. If I say to him, calmly. If I calmly say to him, ‘Herr Wittkopp, please give me the invoice.’ Then he can’t just say, ‘I can’t give you the invoice’! But that’s what he said. What do you think of that? He just said…” ad infinitum. The gentle repetition of the punch line which some people cultivate, also belongs in this category. „And then he looked at her sadly and said, ‚You know, I am an old man: just give me a beer and a good cigar!’ Pause. ‚Just give me a beer and a good cigar!’ Ha, ha, ha.“ That’s like a fizzy drink when it comes back down your nose…

Second rule: Everyday conversations have a grammar of their own. Berliners, for example, have a story-telling future tense. „I come down the road, and the donkey will shout after me, ‘And don’t forget to give the girl the ring!’ Then I’ll take off my left plastic shoe and throw it at his head…“

Rule three: A good everyday conversation never happens like in the theatre, with statement followed by response. That is a literary invention. An everyday conversation comprises speakers, not listeners. So statements are made past each other. Their elbows sometimes touch lightly, that can happen, but in general, everyone makes their own statement. The wonderful transition, “No” plays an important role here. For example, „I don’t know (very important rhetorical introduction). I don’t know: if I don’t smoke a cigar after lunch, I can’t get any work done all day.” (Slight logical inaccuracy: he’s only talking about the afternoon.) Then the other replies, „No.“ (Complete nonsense. He doesn’t mean no. He means that’s not how it is with me. And anyway…) „No. If I smoke after lunch…“ followed by an exact description of his life, which doesn’t interest anyone in the least.

Rule four: What has to be said, must be said, even if no one is listening, even if it is the decisive second too late, even if it no longer fits in. Nobody has yet written down everything which an excitedly chatting group shouts at each other. Someone should, though. How bad punchlines, and good ones too, explode in the air, just for the angels. How no link in the chain of the general conversational shouting fits into another. On the contrary, everyone is searching, with pliers open in the hand, for a link which is not there. Just hats with no heads. Laces with no shoes. Solo twins. It’s really very strange.

Unwritten everyday language! Someone should write it! Just as it is spoken: without abbreviation, without flattery, without make-up and powder, not tarted up! One should really write it down. And the best thing then would be to make a recording of everything that has been written down, and play it back to the original speakers. They would run away in horror to a nice play, you know, one with, „Fritz, put your feet down,“ in which the actors speak so nice and naturally, like in real life, what about Bergner[1], no, me neither, you know, she’s a bit too…

One really should write it down.


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